GREENSBORO, N.C. - We rely on our phones for everything - from social calls, to job interviews and getting help in emergencies. And the federal government wanted low income Americans to have the same phone access. So other phone owners --you and I -- pay a surcharge on our phone bills. It's listed as 'Universal Service Fund'. The amount varies by company, but is typically right around $1 per month. That fee is divvied up among the Lifeline phone program and several others. Thousands of people in our state have these government phones thanks to your money. But 2 Wants to Know found some people are abusing the system and getting multiple phones.
The free phones come with a limited number of minutes - typically 250. To get more than that - some people are breaking the law and getting phones from more than one phone company. 2 Wants To Know combed through hundreds of public records and found some have as many as six free phones per person.
And according to FCC more than 78,000 people in our state have more than one phone. The FCC caught the misuse, turned off the phones and saved North Carolina cell phone users $9.1 million dollars. Nationwide that rings up to $263 million for more than 2 million people with multiple cell phones.
"There needs to be a better way to monitor that and stop that from happening," said U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx.
Foxx is co-sponsoring legislation to abolish the federal Lifeline phone program. She thinks the states to take it over. Because states already control many other welfare programs like food stamps and Medicaid, Foxx thinks they could better crack down on fraud.
Foxx's bill is a long way away from passing - it's still in committee. In the meantime, the FCC database to catch the misuse is only in four states right now. That technology is being tested in North Carolina right now. When it's fully implemented, it should prevent duplication not just catch it after the fraud happens.